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County prosecutors looking to give away money

Getting about 37 percent of an investment back from a debunked firm isn't bad, unless it takes nearly 18 years to do.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge George Wood signed an order the first week of February releasing the life insurance of a man convicted in 1991 of 26 class A felonies related to fraud.

Now that the man has died, the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney's Office is attempting to find all those involved in the original case or their descendants or estate holders.

"It's tough because many were elderly and have died since the original 1991 case," said Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly.

"So we spent a lot of time preparing this, trying to clarify who gets what and that the prorated amounts will be, as his life insurance did not covert the full restitution."

Merle Albert Fredericks conned at least 16 local and out-of-state people out of their savings, late spouse's life insurance and other investments in the mid- to late 1980s.

Kelly and her team still are looking for seven of the victims or their estate holders in order to write a court-approved check from the largest restitution award in Clallam County's history.

Kelly, who worked on the original case as a deputy prosecuting attorney, said she's been with the office for nearly 30 years and nev-er has seen a larger restitution.

"Unfortunately, unless your name or a family member's name is part of the original case, you cannot qualify for the restitution," she said.

Wood released nearly $74,000

to the 16 restitution recipients from Fredericks' $108,000 life insurance policy. Originally, Fredericks was directed to pay the court system monthly restitution installments so the court could allocate payments to the victims.

However, due to his sporadic payments, the court ordered Fredericks to pay into a life insurance policy that would pay victims once he was dead.

The original restitution was set at nearly $291,000, but his victims will see only 37 percent of that. The victim who will receive the most is a Port Angeles woman who received about $35,394. The smallest restitution was about $554.

"This man took advantage of many people, mostly through a church group, I believe," recalled Kelly of Fredericks, whose last-known address was on Vashon Island.

"He used a Ponzi scheme and many lost their savings or life insurance."

A Ponzi scheme is an illegal, pyramid-style investment system that causes all investments to have no value other than what the person on the top takes away.

The fraud was reported to the state Securities Commission that forwarded the case to the Clallam County Superior Court.

"It took us longer than we would have liked to have this happen, but it's done," Kelly said. "Let us know if you or someone you know is connected to this case and we will review that."

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